In the first part of this project, we took a look at the opening preseason game for the Los Angeles Clippers against the Denver Nuggets and, specifically, how Lance Stephenson played in that game beyond what the box score showed. There were some ups and downs, but Stephenson showed traces of being a worthwhile contributor to the team this season. In this edition, we will look at the second game of the preseason for the Clippers and see how Stephenson managed to play during that game. Roll, roll, roll the footage, gently on your screen!
Before we get started into the footage, though, it does seem prudent to say what Stephenson did in this game from a statistical standpoint. He finished scoreless while going 0-for-4 from the field. However, he did have four rebounds, one assist, one steal, one turnover, and two fouls. Stephenson played 25 minutes and the team was -17 with him on the floor. In the first game, he had a plus-minus of -8. That statistic can be flawed, but the team has been outscored by 25 points in the 47 minutes he’s been on the floor in the preseason. With that said, here we go.
Stephenson came into the game and the first possession the team runs with him on the floor ends in a mistake players can’t make in preseason games. Paul Pierce inbounds to Austin Rivers who brings the ball over the midcourt line and passes it off to Josh Smith. On the outset of this play, both Lance Stephenson and Jamal Crawford are in the corners. However, when the ball is passed to Smith and he dribbles to the left wing, they each make a sideline cut to the ball and exchange places with Rivers and Pierce. Smith hands off to Crawford and Crawford passes to Stephenson. From there, Stephenson ball fakes a pass to Rivers in the corner and gives the ball back to Crawford. Smith runs up to set a screen for Crawford and Crawford attempts to make a wing-to-wing pass to Stephenson on the nearside. Unfortunately, that pass gets deflected by Terrence Ross and stolen. Stephenson then grabs Ross and commits a clear path foul.
This seems like a weird play to begin with, but it highlights two problems with the bench right now overall. First, the player movement is not crisp whatsoever. Watch as the play unfolds. There’s zero movement off the ball unless it’s coming off of a screen or movement at the beginning of the play. It’s very basic stuff. Secondly, and more importantly, turnovers are killing the bench. This is a terrible pass by Crawford. It’s hard to tell if Crawford expected Stephenson to be more towards the corner than on the wing, but it’s a pretty poor pass without actually knowing where the defense is located. The issue with Stephenson here, though, is that he commits a clear path foul. You can’t commit that foul there. Let the dunk happen. No reason to risk giving up more points by committing a clear path foul.
The bench will get it together over time. At the very least, you expect them to do so. We’ll see as the year goes along. The issues on this play aren’t exactly small, either. The lack of movement, lack of fluidity, turnovers, and general misunderstanding were common themes throughout the first two games. This play isn’t really an indictment of how poor Lance Stephenson has played at times. This was just a minor lapse in judgement by Stephenson on the back end of a bad play by everyone involved. You hope the bench turns it around. But, if they want to, they need to not have plays like this happen.
On the ensuing possession, Kyle Lowry crosses midcourt being guarded by Austin Rivers. Up runs Bismack Biyombo to set a screen. Rivers tries to get over the top of the screen, but Biyombo crushes him enough to deter him from doing so. Lowry then turns the corner, gets downhill, and takes the ball right into the body of Josh Smith before finishing up with a tough left-handed layup that goes in. As the play unfolds, though, Lance Stephenson does nothing to help out. When Lowry comes off the screen, Stephenson stays glued to DeMarre Carroll even though Carroll is inching up towards the key. Carroll doesn’t even start moving back out to the corner until Lowry hits the left elbow. Stephenson really should have helped contest on this play since it would have likely stopped Lowry from being able to use his left hand to finish a layup.
This is a minor thing to gripe about, but when you’re not supplying much offensively, you need to show up more defensively. As good of a one-on-one defender as Stephenson happens to be, he still has tons of lapses when off the ball. This is one of them. If Carroll has to beat you, then so be it. You can’t let Lowry get downhill as much as he did and get a shot off. Stephenson should have rotated down, helped Smith contain the drive, and forced Lowry into a really tough decision. Combined with the clear path foul, this was four points for the Toronto Raptors in the blink of an eye. Smith didn’t even play this poorly. But, he did need help from the strongside defender. You have to force Lowry into a tough spot. They didn’t.
A little while later, Austin Rivers dribbles the ball up and passes to Paul Pierce who then hands it off to Jamal Crawford. This is actually a nice little play for a while and shows that the bench can move the ball and players. After Crawford gets the ball, he hands it back off to Rivers coming off of a baseline curl. Rivers then dribbles into the free-throw area and throws a pass back to Crawford on the left wing. Crawford looks open for a three, but he bypasses that look for a dribble-drive move before passing back to Rivers on the right wing. Rivers then fires to Stephenson in the corner, but his shot gets blocked by Bruno Caboclo and Toronto rebounds to end the possession.
Okay, let’s break this down. First, the movement is really good. The issue, though, is that when Rivers passes to Crawford on the wing and Crawford bypasses the three, Rivers is too close to Pierce on the right wing and Pierce is too close to Stephenson. It creates a major spacing issue at that point in time. It becomes easier for the defense to defend the space if more bodies occupy the space. Secondly, Crawford should not have bypassed the three-point opportunity there. While some would have probably seen it as selfish, it was still a really good look and a defender wasn’t going to close out in time. Crawford had already made up his mind far ahead of time and then dribbled out of a good shoot.
Thirdly, do not blame Stephenson here. This is more or less to showcase how the bench moved. Stephenson having his shot blocked isn’t exactly his fault. While there were 8 seconds left on the shot clock, it’s hard to say if a better shot would have been available. Had Stephenson passed to his left and hit Paul Pierce, that puts a ton of pressure on Pierce to create in a limited amount of time. Nothing Lance did was wrong. He was just done in by poor spacing that was the result of Rivers sort of flaring to the right wing rather than the top of the arc. Also, really nice screen set by Smith to free Rivers up at the free-throw line and create a possible shot opportunity for Crawford on the wing.
With roughly 90 seconds to go in the first quarter, Cory Joseph dribbles into the frontcourt against Austin Rivers. All you have to do on this play is just watch Lance Stephenson and Terrence Ross. They both start in the far corner as the possession gets underway. Bruno Caboclo curls around to set Ross a screen on Stephenson so that Ross can get freed to run to the nearside wing. Stephenson sees this and expertly navigates his way through the gap and traffic so that Ross cannot get the ball. Joseph wanted to pass to Ross, but he couldn’t do it whatsoever. This forces Ross to then curl back around to the far corner to get open again. In the meantime, Luis Scola is called for an offensive foul against Paul Pierce thus ending Toronto’s possession. On this play, you can see what an engaged Stephenson is capable of defensively. He stifles the play by just being smart and paying attention. Good work by Lance.
With a minute to go, Stephenson dribbles across midcourt and gets a nice screen from Josh Smith that gets both of them running downhill towards the key. Stephenson draws both defenders to him with his dribble and still finds a nice little passing lane to Smith that allows Josh to gather the ball in one motion. Smith goes up for the finish, but he gets rejected by Bismack Biyombo and the ball goes flying out of bounds. Result of the play notwithstanding, this was really nice by both Stephenson and Smith. At the outset of it, Smith sets a great screen and Stephenson gets downhill really well. Smith then sprints once the screen is cleared and Stephenson bounce passes perfectly into a pocket where only Smith can get the ball. While the shot attempt is blocked, you still have to like what you see here from a process standpoint. Stephenson as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll is a good thing so far through two games.
After the block, the Clippers get a side-out-of-bounds and Crawford inbounds to Stephenson to initiate the action. Stephenson probe dribbles and attempts to cross over the defender (Bruno Caboclo) before leading him directly into a Josh Smith screen. After Stephenson comes around the corner of the screen, he draws the big man defender (Bismack Biyombo) directly to him with a nice little dribble near the left elbow. This forces him to clear the paint and gives a free lane for Smith when he ultimately rolls. Smith then rolls after Caboclo finally gets over the top of the screen and Stephenson executes a highly difficult pass that hits Smith right on the money. Smith then tries to tomahawk dunk the ball over Luis Scola, but the ball goes off the back iron and ricochets near midcourt where Toronto rebounds it.
Yet again, Lance Stephenson in the pick-and-roll is nothing but good things. Especially when the rolling big man is Josh Smith. They have at least some semblance of chemistry together in pick-and-rolls it looks like. That’s definitely a positive for the team as they progress through both the preseason and the regular season. While Stephenson has struggled at times, the ability he has as a passer in the pick-and-roll is pretty darn good when looking at the footage. These are tough passes that he’s making to beat long-armed defenders. While the possessions aren’t ending with buckets, they are ending in top notch looks for the offense. And that’s all you can really ask for right now.
With a half minute left in the opening quarter, Stephenson dribbles up and receives yet another screen from Smith. Stephenson keeps the defense at bay with his dribble as Smith actually doesn’t roll to the hoop here. Instead, Smith flares out to the top of the arc and Stephenson hits him with a good pass right in the shooting pocket. Smith rises up and shoots a three that clanks off the back right side of the iron. Sure, this seems like a bad shot for Smith, but, at the same time, it’s one you’ll live with considering it came within the flow of the offense and could have been a big boost for the team. It also gives you an idea that Stephenson and Smith can run the pick-and-pop instead of just the pick-and-roll. While Smith will need to hit that shot, you can clearly see the defense – namely Biyombo – react as though Smith was going to roll here rather than pop. It gave Smith a massively wide open three-point attempt. Well done by both Stephenson and Smith.
Here, we get to look at some one-on-one defense by Lance Stephenson. While this play starts out as a side-out-of-bounds, just keep an eye on Stephenson guarding Terrence Ross here. Ross gets the ball at the top with about 9 seconds on the shot clock and he tries to go to work against Stephenson. After getting the ball, Biyombo runs up to set him a screen, but it doesn’t work because Stephenson did an awesome job of pushing Ross too far away from the screen to begin with. So, when it’s time for Ross to come off the screen, Lance has already gone underneath it and is back in great defensive position to deal with whatever Ross wants to throw his way.
Stephenson and Ross are now going head-to-head on the nearside wing and Ross tries to lose him with a little stutter-step right-to-left dribble, but Stephenson is with him the whole way here. Ross then attempts a three, but Lance contests it well and then leaks out for a possible fast break opportunity. It’s great awareness by Stephenson. Josh Smith gets the rebound and hurls the ball upcourt, but it goes way out of bounds and doesn’t find Stephenson. Had it found him, the Clippers would have gotten two points and Stephenson would have had a great all-around sequence here. Instead, he has to settle for playing great one-on-one defense, not getting screened out of the play, contesting extremely well, and then being aware enough to try and get a basket on the other end.
This is a really lengthy play, so try to bear with this one. Pierce passes to Pablo Prigioni at midcourt, Josh Smith sets a screen for Prigioni before rolling to the rim, and Prigioni passes wing-to-wing to Pierce. After he gets the ball, Pierce rotates once into the corner to Stephenson and sets him a cross screen so Stephenson can dribble up the sideline. He does and Stephenson passes back to Pierce in the corner for a possible shot. Biyombo closes out well on Pierce so Pierce throws the ball back to Stephenson on the right wing. Stephenson ball fakes a pass to Crawford before taking the defender (Bruno Caboclo) off the dribble. Stephenson gets into the paint really well, turns and fires a pass to Jamal Crawford at the top of the arc, and Crawford then dribble-drives into the paint before passing off to Pierce on the nearside wing. Pierce then shot fakes, gets separation, and dribbles into a tough baseline mid-range jumper that he nails.
Okay, so a lot happened here. But the key part might be that Stephenson did a really nice job of ball faking to Crawford at the top of the arc in order to get the defender off-balance enough to beat him off the dribble. This allowed Stephenson to get into the paint and pass out for a quality look at the top of the arc. Watch the ball fake again by Stephenson. Not only does Caboclo get off-balance, but Luis Scola actually turns his back and runs because he thought Stephenson passed the ball. This allowed Stephenson to waltz into the key and then pass out of it. Had Crawford been better prepared for a possible shot attempt, perhaps the Clippers get a great look from three. Crawford was too far beyond the arc and fumbled the pass from Stephenson or else that might have been the shot. Really nice work by Stephenson to fake out the defense and dribble into the teeth of them in order to get his team what could have been a quality look.
On Toronto’s ensuing possession, Cory Joseph dribbles up against Pablo Prigioni, but Prigioni does a nice job of stopping any possible baseline layup attempt by Joseph. This forces Joseph to dribble back out and he receives a half-screen from Luis Scola that doesn’t do much to deter Prigioni hounding him. From here, we see Lance Stephenson’s poor off-ball awareness show up. Stephenson gets caught watching the ball way too much and loses a feel of where his man happens to be. Terrence Ross makes a quick cut to the rim when he sees Stephenson get too high up the court. This allows Joseph to feather a bounce pass right into Ross before Stephenson can react accordingly. Josh Smith rotates over to protect the rim and Ross tries a behind-the-back pass to Biyombo that ends up going out of bounds for a turnover.
So, while he did recover admirably to try and deflect a pass away, this was a pretty poor showing of off-ball recognition by Stephenson. He got caught way too high up the court when Joseph was dribbling with nowhere to go and it enabled Toronto to get what could have been a really nice look around the rim for an explosive athlete. Those are not exactly the kind of shots you want to be giving up to teams; even in the preseason. Stephenson has to do a better job of seeing things as they happen off the ball or else it’ll be a hit-and-miss approach to defense for him. That’s not exactly something the team nor he can afford at this juncture.
Prigioni brings the ball up and passes to Stephenson after Lance got freed up by a little rub screen from Crawford at the left wing. Stephenson then tries to dribble into the paint against Caboclo and goes for some kind of half-spin move just below the free-throw line that ends up seeing the ball poked away and a turnover happen. No clue what Stephenson is even attempting here since he had Pierce wide open in the near corner for a three-point attempt. Josh Smith set a wonderful screen on Luis Scola to free Pierce up and Stephenson is just caught dribbling aimlessly into the defense rather than keeping his head up and examining what’s unfolding. Poor play by Stephenson.
This is where good Lance shows up; transition. If there are three things Stephenson has shown so far throughout preseason, they are that he’s (a) a really good on-ball defender, (b) excels as a passer in the pick-and-roll, and (c) is really adept in the transition game. Coincidentally, the Clippers did need all three of those things this offseason. Pierce gets the rebound and just passes it to Stephenson so the fast break can begin. Stephenson then fires a beauty of an arcing pass to Crawford at the left wing three-point line. It leads Crawford right into a wide open three – except that’s not what Crawford chooses to do. Instead, Crawford takes one gather dribble and settles for a contested mid-range jumper over a lengthy defender that ultimately misses. It’s a terrible shot choice after Stephenson led him right into a wonderful one. Don’t let the shot selection by Crawford deter what Stephenson was able to do with this pass. He threw Crawford right into an optimal scoring area. Just beautiful.
This play literally begins where the last play left off. And for good reason. The Raptors bring the ball up the court in the hands of DeMar DeRozan and Lance Stephenson picks him up. DeRozan wants to pass to Luis Scola rolling to the rim, but Stephenson does a good job of throwing his hands up to deny the passing lane. This forces DeRozan into a bad decision. He kicks the ball to his right, but Jamal Crawford is already jumping the passing lane and steals the ball to start the fast break. Crawford passes up to Stephenson and Lance tries to bully his way all the way to rim amidst tough defense from Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph. The right-handed scoop shot is missed off the backboard and the possible putback jam is mishandled by Josh Smith.
It’s probably apropos to say that this sequence has both good Lance and bad Lance. To start, he does a really good of stopping a possible pass to Scola in the paint and forcing DeRozan into a bad decision. However, his method on the fast break could have used a tad more refinement. What he should have done here is stop running full speed, slow up a little bit, and drop a pass off to Smith. If he didn’t want to slow down, he had to know Smith was running with him since he could have seen him out of the corner of his eye as he turned his head after receiving the pass from Crawford. He had an option, either way. While there was a play for a rebound putback by Smith, it’s still on Stephenson to make a better decision here.
Late in the third quarter, we see bad Lance show up off the ball defensively. Without mentioning everything that happens on this play, just focus in on Lance Stephenson guarding Terrence Ross in the near corner. When the ball makes its way to Bruno Caboclo on the far wing, Stephenson gets caught way out of position because he assumes Ross is going to keep moving up to the near wing. He has good reason to think this since Cory Joseph sets a little screen for Ross. However, Ross then cuts back the other way and Stephenson gets screened again by Bismack Biyombo. This allows Ross to get a considerable distance away from Stephenson as Ross cuts along the baseline and curls around a Luis Scola screen. The Scola screen isn’t for show, though. It has a purpose.
When Scola screens Stephenson, Caboclo throws a pass to Ross coming off the curl. At this point, Stephenson is hung up on the screen so Josh Smith has to help out on Ross’ potential drive. Ross reads the help and feeds a pass perfectly into Scola between Smith and a lost Stephenson. Scola has to wait a split second before going up with the shot because Blake Griffin rotates over really well to contest Scola’s initial attempt. Scola misses, but there’s no one left on the backside to rebound the ball so Scola gets an easy putback opportunity and makes it.
There were a few moving parts on this play, but Stephenson assuming Ross was going to get the ball on the right/near wing was the ultimate gamble that didn’t pay off. Because of this, it left the Clippers’ defense out of position a little bit and late to react. When Ross gathers the ball off of Scola’s screen on the opposite wing, it forces Smith into a decision without help being immediately behind him. Due to that, Ross is able to feed Scola the ball. Had Stephenson not bit on what he thought was going to happen or ball watching, he would have been in better position to stick with Ross from the beginning. Remember that play from earlier where Stephenson denied Ross the ball and Toronto turned it over with an offensive foul by Scola? This is almost like that play. Except, instead of sticking with Ross the whole way, Stephenson failed to do his job off the ball on this play.
About a minute later, we get the double high pick-and-roll that the Clippers ran quite a bit last year in the playoffs. Instead of seeing the three participants being Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, we’re left with Jamal Crawford, Cole Aldrich, and Josh Smith. That’s fine. It’s still a set they run. Crawford comes off of the Smith portion of the screen, but dribbles half-heartedly out just beyond the three-point line where Terrence Ross recovers. Crawford passes off to Smith who feeds the ball to Rivers. After passing here, Smith runs up and sets a screen for Rivers that allows Austin to get downhill into the key. Austin jump passes to Lance Stephenson in the corner after Stephenson’s defender (Bruno Caboclo) sunk down to help on Aldrich so that Bismack Biyombo could help on any drive by Rivers.
Stephenson looks like he would have had a shot had the pass from Rivers been better, but Caboclo does a good job of recovering onto Lance in the corner. This forces Stephenson to dribble and he does so by beating the defender with said dribble and getting into the paint. It looks like Stephenson is going up for a shot attempt, but he actually makes a great read and jump passes down to Aldrich who goes up and gets fouled. This is a really nice job by Stephenson of reading the defense and taking what they give him. The shot attempt, had he chosen to go with it, would have been really tough since Biyombo’s a quality shot blocker. Rather than forcing it, Lance dumps it off and helps generate a couple free throws. Had the pass from Rivers been better, perhaps Stephenson takes the three. Instead, we got this great job by Lance off the dribble. Well executed.
First play shown from the fourth quarter is one where Lance Stephenson gets to showcase his defense a little bit. He’s in the nearside corner guarding Terrence Ross when the ball finds Luis Scola’s hands. Ross then runs up for the handoff and Scola sets a screen to try and free Ross up for the shot. The second Stephenson sees Scola turn to look at Ross, he gets into a great stance and becomes really engaged. Scola hands the ball to Ross and screens Stephenson as best he can. Unfortunately for Toronto, Stephenson makes it through the screen well enough to get a hand up in Ross’ shooting area and make the shot difficult. Ross misses the three and Los Angeles rebounds. Quality job here done by Stephenson to stay with Ross, fight through the screen, and contest the shot. When engaged throughout a possession, you can see the difference Stephenson can make for the team. He has to stay consistent, though.
This is one of those possessions that you pray you rarely see during the regular season. It starts off innocently enough. Josh Smith dribbles into the frontcourt and passes off to Lance Stephenson as Stephenson comes off of a Pablo Prigioni screen. Stephenson tries to beat Norman Powell off the dribble, but he can’t so he passes to Austin Rivers on the right wing. Rivers then gives the ball back to Stephenson and Lance proceeds to go one-on-one against Powell. It doesn’t go well. Stephenson does gain separation here with a nice little right-to-left crossover after a pass fake, but Powell is right there to contest the mid-range jumper and Stephenson misses meekly off the back iron. These are possessions that can’t happen. They’re wasted and not needed since there were 11 seconds left on the clock when Stephenson went up with the shot. He should learn as the year goes along. At least you hope so.
Clippers have a side-out-of-bounds here with Stephenson as the inbounder. He throws it in to Branden Dawson and then cuts off of a Dawson screen to receive the ball again in the near corner. Stephenson gets partially double-teamed in the corner, but he’s still able to slip a nice little bounce pass back to Dawson. It seems like Dawson is hesitant at first, partly due to Norman Powell’s help defense, but Dawson gathers the ball and goes up with a decent looking little right-handed shot that grazes the front of the rim and falls short. We have another case here where Stephenson ran the pick-and-roll, fed a beautiful pass through multiple defenders, and hit a guy who could roll to the rim for a finish. And, yet again, it’s not his fault the player receiving the pass didn’t finish. It’s a quality look and a real nice job by Stephenson.
About three minutes later, we see a possession that is chopped down to show the part that matters. Had the full possession been shown, it would have been monstrously long and a lot of it was inconsequential. Anyways, C.J. Wilcox has the ball on the left wing and waits for Lance Stephenson to post up on the left block. Wilcox feeds Stephenson and Stephenson tries his best to outmuscle and overpower Bruno Caboclo. When that doesn’t work, Lance spins to his right, throws up a little fake, and gets Caboclo to leave his feet. There’s definitely contact made and this is probably a foul, but it goes uncalled. Lance’s shot is blocked and he regathers with only about two seconds on the shot clock. Stephenson then throws a wild pass out of bounds and looks at the near official with his arms outstretched. He’s clearly looking at the referee and asking about why there wasn’t a foul call. Lance then puts his hands on his head and walks away.
It’s a nice idea to get Stephenson a look by posting him up on the low block, but it doesn’t work out as the defender guarding him is longer and nearly as strong. To Stephenson’s credit, he does get the defender off of his feet and surely did get fouled. He should have gone to the line for two free throws. The wild pass that follows is one of frustration and angst. The emotions got to Stephenson as he looked at the official for a call and you can understand where he’s coming from. In theory, this is a solid play that works. Stephenson posted up well, got the defender out of sorts, and did draw what looked like a foul. The final result didn’t pay off, but the process certainly wasn’t flawed.
We get another look at Lance Stephenson as the pick-and-roll ball-handler here. Stephenson beats Caboclo off the dribble as Chuck Hayes walks up and implies that he’s going to set a screen. Michale Kyser looks as if this catches him off-guard and he tries to sprint back to cut off Stephenson’s path to the rim. He succeeds there, but Stephenson still weasels a pass through the two defenders and right into Hayes’ hands. Hayes throws up a right-handed push shot that clanks off the back iron and that was that. Still, Stephenson’s ability to be a masterful passer cannot be understated. There are some things there that give you hope even if he’s struggling with his shot. He did better in this game at getting downhill, so perhaps he’s slowly rounding into form with the team as far as this stuff goes.
Finally, we have Lance Stephenson’s defense leading to what should have been offense. Toronto gets the ball to Caboclo on the right wing and Stephenson flat out rips him as Caboclo tries to dribble between his legs. The ball bounces right into the hands of Branden Dawson and Stephenson sprints up the court for a possible layup opportunity. Only issue with that is Dawson’s pass is thrown way off target here and sails out of bounds. This was the last time the Clippers touched the ball, but it did show how good Stephenson is in one-on-one situations when someone gets careless with their dribble. The pass to him as he ran upcourt was poor, but that doesn’t take away from what he did in this sequence. It’s a good job by Stephenson.
While there were some bad things that happened in this game, Stephenson still showed that he can defend one-on-one, be a skilled passer in the pick-and-roll game, and get to the rim at times. While his shot selection is still questionable at times, there are things to take away from his preseason run that show he can be a key contributor to the team throughout the duration of the season. It’s up to him to continue improving and bettering himself. The chemistry, or lack thereof, is certainly playing a factor in some of the stuff you’re seeing. As the preseason trudges along, that stuff should improve. Lance Stephenson had good moments and bad moments through the first two preseason games. He’ll have them throughout the season, as well. The hope is that the bad moments start to become fewer and more far between with the work being put in during preseason.